« PreviousContinue »
Reader, would you see the mound where the Foragers were buried, and where Sterling and Fordham, and Julia rest, go to Rose-Hill, in the manor of Fordham; and when you come to the old manor-house, advance to a small hill, about an hundred rods north-west : there you will find it; and if you have still any doubts, the removal of one foot of earth will reveal their dry bones.
Once upon a time, (I like that old-fashioned way of beginning; one incurs no chronological responsibility,) once upon a time, then, a poet, staff in hand, and knapsack on back, came to Paris from Lyons. His pocket contained only a few sous, but his knapsack held a precious treasure; a tragedy, each line of which was to be as productive as those gainful verses in the Æneid; · Tu Marcellus,' etc. After many goings and comings, during which his sous transformed themselves into liards,' his piece was presented. The troop of course criticized pretty freely. This was against nature, that against the unities; and all bis humble attempts at explanation were overwhelmed by Aristotle and Boileau. Nevertheless, his piece was accepted, and the night of the representation fixed.
Like the unlucky vender of crockery, in the Arabian Nights, or the more modern milk-maid, our poet dreamed of laurel crowns, and heaps of gold. Visions of smiling beauties swam before him, and invitations to sumptuous dinners rang in his ears. On this last point his dreams dwelt especially. Kind Nature, unable to give him a meal during the day, did her best to satisfy his hunger at night.
At five o'clock, (the play began at seven,) he stood before the theatre, and watched with delight the augmenting queue,' whom he inwardly apostrophized as · Witnesses of my Triumph! At length the door swang open, in rushed the crowd, and our poet, tandem felix, as the grave-stones have it, sat himself down in a conspicuous seat, drinking in every word of his composition, with the same eagerness that old Saturn is said to have displayed in devouring bis offspring.
But hark! what sound is that, which 'breaks upon the ear? A shrill whistle, a groan, loud hisses, destroyed his pleasing reverie ! On all sides yawning jaws, or compressed hissing lips! The tumult thickens ; the actors can no longer be heard. His dream was at an end. His piece was damned !
His visions were not couleur de rose' this night. “Ah,' he cried, • Racine himself never composed with so much fervor; and these men call themselves CRITICS ! Good God! Does the life or death of us unlucky poets depend upon such judges ?
When he awoke the next morning, he descended the seven pair of stairs, and betook himself to the Barrières. Weary at length, and sad, he sat himself down upon a stone bench, slouched his hat over his eyes, and began an ode to unhappy Genius. An old man stopped, bared his hoary head, and bowed low. Our poet started. Where could the good old gentleman have seen me ? Who can he be ? He must have taken me for some other person.'
So he relapsed into the search of a rhyme for genius, when lo! a second halted, and saluted, and twenty others, who followed, went through the same ceremony. There sat our friend upon the bench, his hat in his hand, smiling, and nodding, and bowing thanks to every passer-by.
• Not so unknown as I thought myself !' said he ; 'how delightfully they all bend before me! These men, I will wager, were pleased with my tragedy, and now are nudging each other, and saying: "That is the author ! there he sits ! Hail all powerful genius!' Am I to be pitied, then, since I have charmed so many ? These, these good folks, shall be my judges. The hissing proceeded from the serpent-tongues of envious brother bards. A plot! I see through it all!'
Hardly had he made this discovery, when a well-known author of the delightfully awful school, and a scoffer at religion withal, passed by. His hat never moved.
*Bah!' ejaculated our Racine ; mean and contemptible envy! But what care I for him, when a hundred hats are flying ?'
An old dried-up fish-woman came next, fell upon her knees, and began a feeble muttering. Touched to the heart, our poet sprang up : No, no,' he cried ; I am a mortal, like yourself, Madame; Voltaire himself is not worthy of being worshipped.'
The fish-woman muttered on. He took her skinny hand to raise her up; she resisted; but full of mild condescension, he persisted in pulling.
Que diable ! What are you doing with that old hag ?? asked a peasant, with a loud peal of laughter; most ill-timed, the poet thought; she is as deaf as a post, mon cher !'
With conscious pride, tempered by a becoming modesty, the demigod related the whole affair, and concluded by saying: See, my friend, thus does the Gallic race show its veneration for its glorious bards !'
The jolly peasant grinned again, and rejoined:
head. Do you see the Virgin, and the burning torches ? The passers were bending to the Mother of God.' He laughed louder than before, and then vanished.
The old hag of Mucklestane-moor was not more suddenly transformed into stone, than our poet. He heard the laugh long after the peasant had departed. What a cruel fall! Imagine Vulcan’s sensations at reaching Lemnos. He soon came to himself, however, for there was no time to be lost. He knew the greedy appetite of the Parisians for good jokes, and dreaded the hoots and hisses of so vast a pit. So he wisely packed up his bundle, and sneaked off to Lyons, starting for three days at the rustling of a leaf.
'T is not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
NOTHING in social life needs reform so much as Death. reader, at the seeming inconsistency, but 'lend an ear to my Discourse.' Death, however philosophically considered, will always excite sad emotions; but with us, the solemn is so mixed up
with the ludicrous and the hypocritical, that it is next to impossible to distinguish the true from the false. For my part, “I like to hear where words come from,' as the Indian said to Woolman, the Quaker.
No Christian can mourn that a friend has left this world of care for mansions of eternal bliss ;' at the same time, a kind heart cannot avoid suffering under such an affliction ; and this all think creditable and praiseworthy. But why should the afflicted proclaim their grief to the world? Why freshen painful recollections, by the constant view of mourning ? Since the idea of death is so repugnant to the living; since no lamentation can recall the breath to the lifeless clay; it is not only rational, but an absolute duty, to let passionate grief give place to those calmly-melancholy remembrances, which are wholesome to the heart, and do not embitter existence. mortalem g'enuisse,' said the sage, when he heard that his son was dead. An admirable lesson.
When the soul that we loved has vanished, what does Common Sense suggest should be done ? To convey the body to a suitable
place of interment, silently, mournfully, unobtrusively.
Custom plays the undertaker differently. Before the warmth has left the corpse, she sends off a notice to the daily papers :
Died, at his residence in Square, after a long and painful illness, John SMITH, in the — year of his age. His friends, and those of his third cousin, Mr. Thomas Smith, are invited to attend the funeral on Thursday afternoon, at four o'clock.'
The friends, six of whom are presented with linen scarfs, just a pattern for a shirt, meet at the house, and talk of stocks, steam-boats, and Fanny Elssler. Meanwhile the ‘ mortal coil' of John Smith is borne forth in a mahogany coffin, decorated with a silver plate, which records his name and age, as a 'carte' to announce to a certain convocation of politic worms,
'all six feet under ground,'
the title of the dish they are to banquet upon. The hearse receives it-dismal, gloomy, hung with black; the horses are black too. Slowly moves Death's chariot along the crowded street; and a beggarly account of empty hackney-coaches closes the procession. Common Sense would have omitted the scarfs, and the empty hackney, coaches, and given the money to the widow.*
Now what is going on in John Smith's house ? Look in at that back room, dimly lighted, through the closed blinds. There sit the disconsolate widow and her daughters. Well, they are weeping, I suppose,' Not at all.
• What then ? Sewing; yes, sewing. Today, to-morrow, all the week, they will measure, make patterns, cut out, hem, stitch, baste, plait, iron, and try on. Meanwhile, in their distraction, they do not perhaps think of their loss. How could a lady mourn, without ' mourning ?'
Once upon a time, men imagined that negligence in attire betokened grief. They are wiser now. They spend a week in making grave-clothes; in putting on Death's livery; in rendering their persons gloomy to themselves and to others; and then haunt the streets, walking memcnto moris to all whom they meet. Do not, as Boileau happily expresses it,
Pour honorer les morts faire mourir les vivans.' The rustling of a crape dress sounds to me like a raven, croaking out his ominous bodings.
• But what would be the use of mourning, if we staid at home?' True; I had forgotten that,
It is very strange, that we who live in hope of eternal life and happiness beyond the grave, should paint Death in such sad colors! The ancients, whose ideas of the future were so indistinct and cheerless, invested Death with a poetical charm, which robbed the mighty king' of half his 'terrors.' Listen to LONGFELLOW:
• In the temple of Juno at Elis, Sleep and his twin-brother Death
* The Massachusetts Puritans, who were far in advance of their age in all matters disconnected with church forms, enacted, in the year 1724, a law especially prohibiting, un. der the penalty of twenty pounds, the practice of presenting a scarf to every guest who attended a funeral.